Principles and management of neuropsychiatric symptoms in Alzheimer's dementia

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Neuropsychiatric symptoms of Alzheimer's disease (NPS-AD) are highly prevalent and lead to poor medical and functional outcomes. In spite of the burdensome nature of NPS-AD, we are continuing to refine the nosology and only beginning to understand the underlying pathophysiology. Cluster analyses have frequently identified three to five subsyndromes of NPS-AD: behavioral dysfunction (for example, agitation/aggressiveness), psychosis (for example, delusions and hallucinations), and mood disturbance (for example, depression or apathy). Recent neurobiological studies have used new neuroimaging techniques to elucidate behaviorally relevant circuits and networks associated with these subsyndromes. Several fronto-subcortical circuits, cortico-cortical networks, and neurotransmitter systems have been proposed as regions and mechanisms underlying NPS-AD. Common to most of these subsyndromes is the broad overlap of regions associated with the salience network (anterior cingulate and insula), mood regulation (amygdala), and motivated behavior (frontal cortex). Treatment strategies for dysregulated mood syndromes (depression and apathy) have primarily targeted serotonergic mechanisms with antidepressants or dopaminergic mechanisms with psychostimulants. Psychotic symptoms have largely been targeted with anti-psychotic medications despite controversial risk/benefit tradeoffs. Management of behavioral dyscontrol, including agitation and aggression in AD, has encompassed a wide range of psychoactive medications as well as non-pharmacological approaches. Developing rational therapeutic approaches for NPS-AD will require a firmer understanding of the underlying etiology in order to improve nosology as well as provide the empirical evidence necessary to overcome regulatory and funding challenges to further study these debilitating symptoms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number12
JournalAlzheimer's Research and Therapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 29 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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